We have a reciprocal arrangement with Effingham Bridge Club whereby, members can play (Duplicate) on Friday evenings, at South Bookham Space, Dorking Road, Great Bookham, Surrey, KT23 4PB at 7.30.p.m. Table money only £3.00 per session.
Nowhere is British railway architecture so honoured as in Huddersfield, one of the few stations fit to rank with the great union terminuses of the continent. Sir John Betjeman declared it “the most splendid facade in England”. The main entrance presides over St George’s Square with a princely confidence, focus of what is a rare survivor of a north-country commercial town plan. Among the fountains stands a statue of Huddersfield’s son, Harold Wilson, looking as if anxious to catch a train. For all this there was a reason. Huddersfield was built on land owned since the 16th century by the Ramsden family and their trustees, and not released to the local corporation until 1920. The coming of the railway in the 1840s saw the Ramsdens demand that it signify its presence with appropriate pomp. It boasts a central pavilion, colonnaded wings and corner pavilions. Only a clock in the pediment gives away that this is a railway station rather than a grandee’s mansion.
The pavilions are homes to two smart pubs, the Head of Steam and the King’s Head. The whole facade has been shown the respect due to a grade I-listed building. Its soft sandstone is undefiled by signage, with even the British Rail logo hidden behind the portico in sober silver. Entering under the portico, we expect Huddersfield’s celebrated choral society to be incanting a march from Aida. Across the tracks looms a listed 1880s warehouse, a citadel of commerce in brown and purple vitreous brick. It makes the old station look like a stage set.
‘The star at Dawlish is the sea … The down platform is virtually on the beach.’
The star on this stage is the sea, sometimes angry, mostly at peace. The down platform is virtually on the beach. On a fine day, we can enjoy a vista from Exmouth and the Dorset coast round to the red sandstone cliffs of Devon. Inland, the Haldon Hills rise steeply over the pretty resort. The South Devon Railway was the scene in 1846 of Brunel’s most swiftly abortive experimental technology, an “atmospheric railway”. This involved a piston descending beneath the locomotive into an iron tube in the bed of the track, with a leather flange along the top, along which it was sucked by compressed air. The leather leaked; the grease froze or was eaten by rats. Points and crossings failed and trains could not reverse. After less than a year of chaotic service, even Brunel had to admit defeat.
Brunel’s sea-wall railway survived, along the south bank of the Exe and round into Newton Abbot. At Dawlish, it runs above the beach, cutting the town off from the sea. On rough days, the waves beat against the station wall and drench the rails. In February 2014, a storm famously removed more than 30 metres of track. Brunel’s station was wooden and burned down in 1873. The present one dates from 1875. It is handsomely Italianate, like a row of seaside townhouses, composed of projecting bays, heavily rusticated and stuccoed. The station is best seen from the breakwater below, with a surreal view of express trains snaking past as if over the sand. The station platforms are like the bridge of a battered trawler, their white paint perpetually stained with rust. Waiting passengers can at least taste the salt on their lips.
Settle down … A train approaching Ribblehead station.
If there is a wilder spot in England I don’t know it. Ribblehead sits high and lonely on a Pennine plateau, guarding that great work of Victorian engineering, the 24-arch viaduct over the upper Ribble. The scene is dominated by the twin summits of Ingleborough and Whernside, with Blea Moor to the east. Apart from the small Station Inn in the shadow of the viaduct, the landscape is devoid of settlement. There are few trees, some fields and sheep. Engineered by the Midland’s surveyor, John Crossley, over the hostile Pennine contours, it was the last line built by manual labour. Its constant viaducts and tunnels required 6,000 navvies, with 100 dying in the construction of Ribblehead viaduct alone. The Settle-Carlisle Railway opened for passengers in 1876, never made money and survived successive attempts at closure only by vigorous preservation efforts. The final battle, in the mid-1980s, was fought by myself and others. The chief bone of contention was the cost of viaduct repairs. I remember walking the track with a local contractor who complained that the £7.5m price for Ribblehead’s repair was grossly inflated by BR, intent on closure. One workman said he could solve its leaks for 25 years with a barrowload of tarmac. It was eventually restored for half the original estimate.
Most of the stations on the line were designed by Crossley, in two sizes of near identical neo-Tudor. Ribblehead, however, is attributed to the company’s John Holloway Sanders. Twin-gabled cross wings enclose a small loggia, sensibly glazed. Every roof eave has ornamental bargeboards, and the building is both cheery and uncommonly handsome for somewhere never likely to be much patronised. A small museum fills the booking office, with stained-glass company roundels in the windows. The old stationmaster’s house is now a holiday cottage. Like many such lines, it depends heavily on volunteers, here the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line, who take on even such mainline tasks as station refurbishment – and thank goodness. At the end of March 2017, special events were held to celebrate the reopening of the line following a landslip. This included a special train crammed with railway enthusiasts, and hauled by the Flying Scotsman.
In black and white … a steam locomotive passes the Tudor-style stationmaster’s house at Berwyn.
The gorges of the upper Dee are among the most dramatic in Britain. Undaunted, the Llangollen & Corwen Railway, built by Great Western in 1865, wound its way from Llangollen into Snowdonia through a series of hair-raising bends, tunnels and bridges. The line closed in 1965, but was reopened by the dogged Llangollen Railway Society in 1981. It well illustrates the debt the Welsh tourist industry owes to Wales’s industrial past. Berwyn station, the first halt west from Llangollen, is perched precipitously on a platform between the Dee gorge and the A5. It was designed in the 1860s, probably by the doyen of Marches stations, Thomas Penson of Oswestry. The style is the same black-and-white Tudor he employed in rebuilding much of the city of Chester. The stationmaster’s house is of three lofty storeys, steeply gabled, with one gable looking out over the gorge. This is now available as a holiday let for those with a head for heights (sleeps six, from around £500 a week, one-week minimum). To stand on the platform, with only the track between oneself and the cliff edge, is to see the upper Dee at its most Alpine.
Were I to tire of travel, I should apply, Betjeman-like, for the post of stationmaster at Box Hill & Westhumble. My visit was on a warm summer’s day, with the soft outline of Box Hill on the North Downs in the distance. Passing trains were mere irritants. The manor in which Fanny Burney lived, a pub and a scatter of cottages were hardly visible. This is as perfect a rural halt as I know. It was not until the 1860s that the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR) built a line from Leatherhead to Horsham. The station, by company architect Charles Driver, is a marriage of his favourite styles, French chateau with elements of Venetian gothic. There appears to be more roof than wall, the building being composed of sweeping gables covered in layered patterns of slate. The facade to the platform is of two steeply gabled wings, separated by a large off-centre bay with ornamental tower. At one end is an elaborate porch resting on extravagantly floral Venetian columns. The station sits in a dell, so thickly treed that to wander to the end of the platform is to feel lost in the woods. The platform sign carries lines from local Victorian author George Meredith, declaring: “Nowhere in England is there a richer foliage, or wilder downs and fresher woodlands.” The former ticket hall, with roof rafters as in a medieval hall-house, is occupied by a friendly coffee bar cum bicycle shop called Pilgrim Cycles. The Pilgrims’ Way runs nearby.
The above is an edited extract from Simon Jenkin’s Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations which you can buy for Christmas. It was published in 2017 by Viking at £25.